Covering the Bases: Game 140

salazarSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 5-4 win over the Twins

FIRST: And then there were three. After what happened Friday night, Cleveland’s rotation  consists of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and a whole lot of uncertainty.

The Indians did not need this. After the fourth inning against the Twins, right-hander Danny Salazar complained of tightness in his forearm. With a No. 5 spot currently up in the air, another bullpen day on deck for Saturday, and Cleveland approaching a likely postseason berth, this was a bad development.

Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway shrugged when asked how concerned he is about Salazar’s injury.

“Right now, we really don’t know,” Callaway said. “We’re just waiting for him to come in tomorrow and see how he is. There’s always concern when one of your starters is feeling something.”

And this is hardly the first time Salazar has felt something this season.

Salazar had a start skipped in June due to shoulder fatigue. He was held out of the All-Star Game and then had a DL stint due to inflammation in his right elbow. Now, his forearm? They’re all connected, and it’s worrisome for a hard-throwing pitcher of Salazar’s stature.

Indians manager Terry Francona said the good news right now seems to be that the problem is not structural. That’s all we know for now. If he needs to be skipped again, you could see Josh Tomlin moved back to the rotation. Lefty Ryan Merritt could potentially get a look from Triple-A Columbus, too.

“We’ll certainly keep an eye on him tonight,” Francona said. “And then when he shows up tomorrow, we’ll see how he feels and then we’ll go from there. That’s really all we have right now.”

Salazar’s complaint did back up what was on display on the field. For the first three innings, the righty looked well enough. He made a mistake pitch to Joe Mauer in the first that led to a home run, but was solid enough otherwise. Brian Dozier also had an RBI double in the second, but that followed a two-out error by Jason Kipnis.

In the fourth, Salazar’s pitches lacked the usual life. According to PITCHf/x, the righty averaged 94.8 mph with his fastball in the first, 94.6 mph in the second and then 95.3 mph in the third. In his last inning, Salazar averaged 92.5 mph, with his last heater clocking in at 90.3 mph. In that inning, Byron Buxton belted a two-run homer.

“He looked good. The ball was coming out good,” Callaway said. “I thought in the fourth inning, just watching, it was a little weird. It looked like he was throwing a bar of soap, the way he was releasing the ball. So, I wasn’t shocked when he came in.”

After the game, Salazar was getting treatment and was not available for comment. There will hopefully be more information prior to Saturday’s game here in Minny.

SECOND: The Indians scored four runs in the third inning — two on a bases-loaded double by Lonnie Chisenhall — to capitalize on an error by the Twins. Then, this game took a jaw-dropping turn in the Tribe’s favor in the fifth.

Twins righty Tyler Duffey threw a first-pitch breaking ball to Mike Napoli, who then sent the baseball into oblivion. Specifically, it rocketed into the third deck behind left field. As Francona likes to say, that’s big boy territory.

“I can’t even hit a golf ball that far,” Francona joked.

According to Statcast, Napoli’s solo shot went 463 feet with an exit velo of 112 mph. Both marks are the best on a home run for an Indians hitter this season. If you recall from Thursday, Napoli belted one 464 feet with a exit velo of 113 mph. That one was yanked foul at Progressive Field, though.

“I’m in that position where I can at any time change a game, and I know that,” Napoli said. “I mean, I’m not going up there just trying to hit singles.”

No kidding.

THIRD: It certainly was not Cleveland’s plan to have an unexpected bullpen day on the eve of another bullpen day.

After Salazar mentioned the forearm tightness, though, Callaway said “it was a no-brainer” to get the righty out of the game. At that juncture, Francona turned to rookie right-hander Joe Colon, who worked a clean fifth and began the sixth for the Indians. After four more shutout innings, Colon wound up with his first MLB win.

“The whole bullpen [did great],” Francona said. “That’s tough to string together zeros like that. … Everybody picked each other up.”

Zach McAllister entered after Colon issued a leadoff walk in the sixth, and escaped the inning unscathed. Dan Otero handled the seventh, which ended with a luck-assisted double play.

On the 10th pitch of battle with Mauer, Otero induced a sharp grounder up the middle. Jorge Polanco was running on the 3-2 pitch, so shortstop Francisco Lindor glided over to cover the bag. He wound up with a grounder in his glove, stepped on the base and tossed the ball to first for the inning-ending twin killing.

Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen then teamed to set down the final six Minnesota batters in order to finish off the win.

“That was a hard game to win,” Francona said.

HOME: There are so many pieces to Francona’s roster puzzle, especially when it comes to the outfielders right now.

Friday’s win provided the perfect example. Chisenhall started in right field, delivered his two-run double, scored a run and was then lifted for Rajai Davis in the seventh inning. With lefty Taylor Rogers on the mound for the Twins, Francona wanted to use Davis off the bench.

“We’re being put in the best situations possible for us,” Chisenhall said. “It’s working out great right now.”

In this game, Davis didn’t deliver at the plate, but he came through big in the field. After pinch-hitting for Chisenhall, Davis took over in left, with Abraham Almonte sliding over to right. That defensive alignment paid off in the eighth inning.

Max Kepler sliced a pitch down the left-field line, where Davis raced to a top speed of 20.7 mph, per Statcast.

“I was convinced that ball can’t fall. Not fair,” Davis said. “It was just one of those plays you’ve got to go all-out. It’s a crucial part of the game. If that ball drops in, who know what happens? I was fortunate enough to get a good jump on it.”

As he closed in on the diving fly ball, Davis used a lunging, sliding dive to snare the baseball before it dropped to the grass. Instead of a possible one-out double, the Twins now had two outs and no one one in a one-run game.

“That was probably the play of the game,” Francona said. “I mean, if that ball gets by him, it’s a double at minimum. That was a great play. He went a long way.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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